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Narrative Change

#ComplexCity: Representation and Reality

By March 27, 2019February 20th, 2024No Comments

The Living Mumbai Film Festival 2019

Living Mumbai Film Festival at SNEHA Centre, Dharavi

Do the films we see depict life as it is experienced? Do they ever travel back to those whose stories constituted the film? Do they end up polarising opinions further, or help audiences better understand the complexities and subtleties that constitute life?

To engage on all these questions and more, Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) organised the second edition of Living Mumbai, a film festival that travelled to eight sites across Mumbai and Thane from 16–22 February 2019. The film festival was part of ComplexCity, YUVA’s annual event to celebrate diversity and differences in the city via a series of events — cultural, city walks, youth competitions, a seminar, and youth event. Through ComplexCity, YUVA aimed to curate platforms for the free presentation, debate and discussion of ideas, to work towards co-creating democratic and inclusive urban spaces.

As part of the Living Mumbai film festival, the films (named in the poster alongside) were screened in the communities (mostly in areas where YUVA has been intervening for years). A screening was also organised at QTube Cafe, Bandra, primarily bringing together the youth to discuss the evolving urban as seen through the film-maker’s lens.

The films screened as part of the Migrant Mumbai series (Na Pheriwala Kshetra, Aashiyana, and Navi Mumbai Navi Begaari) and all others except Nil Battey Sannata and Saathi Haath Badhana were produced by the master’s students of the School of Media and Cultural Studies, (SMCS), Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, in close collaboration with YUVA.

The films depicted in each community were carefully selected, based on an understanding of the community’s issues, and by letting the community decide on the genre of the film they wanted to see. The film festival, however, was not about the screenings as much as the discussions that followed every screening, facilitated by YUVA saathis, which aimed to offer people in communities a platform to discuss the film and their lived realities. The discussions aimed to help the community contextualise the screening with the actual issues they encounter daily. Members of the community were encouraged to ask questions and engage with one another freely. Not surprisingly then, insightful thoughts emerged post the film screenings.

The film Badalte Nakshe explored the constructed histories of two generations 20 years after the 1992 Mumbai riots. The film narrated how the people who were children then remember the lived experience of the riots.

‘This film really tells the story of not just one location, but of the situation that our country faces presently. It is basically a story of the powerful and powerless’, said Reha Khan, community member, Dharavi.

The Migrant Mumbai series depicted the issues faced by various marginalised communities in the city, including threats of eviction, livelihood challenges, problems faced as migrants, etc. Reacting to the film, Na Feriwala Kshetra, which takes one through the lives of first-generation migrants in the city,

Zulkamain Ansari, a resident from Vashi Naka added, ‘We have no security when it comes to our daily livelihoods. The policemen come, take our things. We cannot even ask for it back. Are the poor just supposed to adjust to these situations? This film made it clear that we are not the only ones facing such issues’.

The understanding that issues are not localised but faced by others in the city as well, was an important reflection to consider collectivisation strategies that can be taken up to tackle struggles encountered.

On watching the film Ghutan, which was screened in Vashi Naka, that spoke about toxic air quality and abysmal living conditions in the Mahul slum rehabilitation buildings due to the BPCL oil refinery located nearby, Ashwini Bokode, a resident of the community said:

‘The film shows the conditions that exist in Mahul, but we (in Vashi Naka) are not better off. Our air is toxic, water is scarce and polluted and the buildings are in a dilapidated condition. How is someone supposed to live this kind of a life?’.

During the discussion after the screening of Kahaani Paani Ki, which portrays the struggle of the residents of Sathe Nagar for drinking water and basic amenities, Pramod Telange of Bhim Nagar, Parel, said:

‘We have suffered and are still suffering because of water shortage. I have to fill buckets, carry them up to the house and then leave for work every morning. Water is a basic right and we have as much right over it as people who live in the buildings’.

The documentary film Saathi Haath Badhana explored the experiences of construction labourers building a modern architectural marvel, the Palais Royale in Mumbai. Not a brick could be laid without the efforts of these workers. None of the picturesque views from the Mumbai skyscraper, nor the artistic design and ingenious architecture of the building, or the groundbreaking green and sustainable technologies would be possible without those hands, yet their struggles remain unknown.

‘What I liked about this film was how it is connected to our daily realities. For us, having a community of friends away from home is a great form of support’, said Aman Rathod, a construction worker from Thane on seeing the film.

At the film screening at Qtube Cafe in Bandra, the audience profile was different, not comprising of those experiencing vulnerability in the urban. Here, the screenings intended to help viewers better understand diverse urban realities. Three films were screened here, discussing the precariousness faced by urban migrants. The films were based on Navi Mumbai and focused on the oppression of the marginalised. The question ‘Who is a migrant in the city’ assumed significance, especially as this is often layered by caste and class dimensions.

Rohit Lahoti, Research Consultant, University of Chicago Trust asked, ‘The films make me think, how can different interest groups work together to mitigate uncertainties faced by the city’s informal workforce?’ Ooha Uppalapati from YUVA took the discussion forward, throwing light on the often-assumed urban perception that caste does not exist in cities and the need to talk about caste because migration to urban spaces rarely solves issues.

Over the ComplexCity week, the Living Mumbai film festival brought together 650+ people from across the city. We are grateful to all those who participated and shared their experiences with us through this process. We regularly organise screenings and video production trainings in local communities, to take the message of films further to the people and help them work with this medium in innovative ways.

Blog by Surya Karthik (student, TISS) and Blog Editor

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